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Flying Aces

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On November 11, 1918, at 11:11 AM, the death and destruction of World War I came to an end. It was the conclusion of an immense catastrophe that left a death toll on both sides that was staggering.

World War I was the first major war in which airplanes were used as weapons, and the flying ace, a pilot who downed enemy aircraft, was the epitome of the World War I hero among both the Allied and the Axis nations. A fact not well-known in history, however, is that there were a number of German Flying Aces who were Jews. The most famous were:

Willy Rosenstein (1892 – 1949), who received the Iron Cross, shot down nine enemy aircraft. He briefly served under Goering before transferring to another unit. Wisely, he left Germany in the late 1930s, after the Nazis came to power.

Fritz Beckhardt (1889 – 1962) shot down 17 enemy aircraft. During the Nazi regime he was arrested for impropriety with an Aryan woman. Upon his release after 1½ years in prison, he and his family escaped to England. Beckhardt and his son returned to Germany in 1950.

Berthold Guthmann (1893 – c.1943) received the Iron Cross for his service in the German Air Force. Despite his medals, he was sent to Auschwitz in 1943 and murdered.

The heroism of these Jewish pilots might have been forgotten were it not for the efforts of Dr. Felix A. Theilhaber, a doctor in the German army. He began researching the Jewish airman as a means of disproving the anti-Semetic media reports that Jews were not participating in the war efforts and that Jewish cowardice was the reason. Theilhaber’s book Jüdische Flieger im Weltkrieg (Jewish Flyers in the World War), catalogued over 100 airmen who put their lives on the line for their country.

Copyright © 2010 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

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